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Downtown Building Up in Air -- for Now

City Council to decide if an overhang on Caltrans headquarters can remain above 1st Street.

September 27, 2004|Bob Pool | Times Staff Writer

Confusion hangs over a new office building that is itself hanging over one of downtown Los Angeles' busiest streets.

State workers are moving into the $190-million Caltrans headquarters even though city officials have not approved a permanent easement for the building's main architectural feature: a cantilevered overhang that is suspended 60 feet above a public sidewalk on 1st Street.

The northeast corner of the steel-paneled office building protrudes 5 feet over a 1st Street traffic lane.

The City Council has scheduled a public hearing for Oct. 12 to decide whether to permanently give up the public right-of-way that the cantilevered building is using.

Michael Walters, the Bureau of Engineering's liaison with the City Council, blamed the tardy timing of the easement hearing on a City Hall mix-up.

"I don't want to point the finger at anyone," he said. "We should have had the public hearing first."

But if the so-called airspace vacation is not approved, will state officials be required to remove the seven-story overhang?

"That would be real expensive to take off," acknowledged Harold Maas, a manager for the firm that is supervising the Caltrans building project for the state Department of General Services.

Caltrans officials were unaware of the planned public hearing until Tuesday, when announcements taped to street poles outside their 13-floor, 716,200-square-foot building were pointed out to them. Those involved in the construction were puzzled.

"The city has no control over this. It is a state project," said Dwoyne Keith, a designer with the architectural firm that created the eye-catching structure. Among its other architectural elements is a half-block-long, scaffolding-like glass-and-steel girder that is suspended beneath the cantilever and is lighted at night.

Jim Sinscheimer, senior project manager for the Department of General Services, said he thought the right-of-way issue was a formality that had been resolved.

City engineers say the building extends 35 feet into the public right-of-way. An engineering report indicates that a temporary permit issued in 2002 allowed an encroachment of up to 24 feet. Even without it, Sinscheimer said, "I think people have known something was going to be hanging over the street" as part of the Caltrans project.

Could a public outcry Oct. 12 that the new building crowds the street leave the Caltrans cantilever hung out to dry?

"The chances of that happening are pretty slim," Walters said.

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